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Honourable thieves, distinguished brigands and Obasanjo’s sigidi waltz

There is a judicial mystic blowing through the political arena. Even with the jury out on whether our lawmakers have earned their much-coveted titles of…

There is a judicial mystic blowing through the political arena. Even with the jury out on whether our lawmakers have earned their much-coveted titles of distinguished and honourables, the judiciary is urging us to have a debate. In the intervening seven months since elections were held in Nigeria, election tribunal verdicts have created legal aftershocks in the National Assembly.

A recent Vanguard report says that 30 distinguished electoral thieves and honourable brigands have stained the hallowed red and green chambers of the National Assembly. Seven senators once thought to have earned the distinguished prefix have had the title stripped off them. Twenty-three members that adjusted their calling cards with honourable have been found to be nothing but electoral dishonourable brigands.

Tribunals have ruled that these ones did not earn the badge of honour conferred on them by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and ordered them to return the certificates of return dubiously issued to them. Some have been ordered to return to the electorate for revalidation while others were found to be usurpers of other people’s mandates.

While we ponder these degradations, some more members are sitting on one-half of their electoral buttocks with more verdicts previewed. This calls for a debate on whether it suffices to ask electoral burglars to hand over their stolen mandates, go home and sin no more or enter into the electoral hall of shame, be ordered to refund any unearned money they got from public coffers, and suffer ban time for staining the symbol of our democracy.

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After all, in the real world, thieves pay restitution and serve jail terms that preclude them from holding positions of trust. Why should we treat electoral muggers less? Imposing strict penal sanctions, would sanitize the electoral process and reduce the incredible tensions that characterize polls. The big question is whether we could count on the remaining ‘saints’ in the colourful chambers to act on that. After all, many of them earned their electoral win using the late Diego Maradonna’s controversial ‘hand of God’.

From politics, let us check ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent Sigidi dance with tradition and protocols. From the way the 86-year-old Ebora Owu detests inactivity, he would have been diagnosed on the spectrum as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD if he were an infant.

Obasanjo seems to be incapable of controlling impulsive behaviour. The drama king detects the philosophical calmness that sometimes becloud the polity; hence he creates unwarranted distraction. He covets attention whether writing controversial books of curious titles or getting his quondam media friends to grant him attention-grabbing interviews. He assumes supreme knowledge of all the issues plaguing the nation even when some would argue that he often comes short of glowing when given the chance to put his postulations into practice. He’d insist that nobody has beaten his self-adulatory records.

Like the Yoruba effigy Sigidi, Obasanjo overreaches himself by asking to be allowed to play in the rain. This was exactly what the Owu chief did last week when he took on a group of venerated Yoruba crown heads in Oyo State. At a road commissioning function, Obasanjo snatched the microphone to order all present crown heads to stand up. He waited for compliance of his order before ordering them, like a village headteacher to sit back down.

According to Obasanjo, Obas rank lower to elected leaders such as governors and presidents and should honour the latter by standing when they arrive at public functions. To many, it was a reversal of natural protocol that crossed the borders of insolence into the realm of sacrilege. If Obasanjo had tried that in other traditional settings, he could have eaten his pounded yam in lumps. The atmospheric shock created by his audacity repressed spontaneous reactions.

By the time Yoruba elders found their voice, they did not treat their erring son with levity. While some asked that the sacrilege be ignored as another Obj attention-seeking antic, prominent Yoruba citizens and groups reacted with unrestrained anger and outrage. Many felt Obasanjo had desecrated the traditional institution that honoured him and vowed not to take it lying down.

The Yoruba Council Worldwide gave Obasanjo three days to apologize or face “untold traditional and legal reprisal consequences (sic) not limited to filing an action at a court of competent jurisdiction for defamation and scandalous libel”. In the curious world of Nigeria’s penal system, there might be such an offence hidden in the statute books. After all, ours is the only nation in the ‘democratic world’ where vicarious liability has left many in detention for crimes committed by their relatives. Critics have disappeared or been detained on charges of cyberstalking or cyberbullying while insurgents that killed soldiers and threatened national cohesion are baptised as repentant and granted national rehabilitation.

Obasanjo appears to be the kind of elder statesman who wakes up wondering how to heat up the polity. He is not the kind of person who believes in Chinua Achebe’s dictum that those whose palm kernels are cracked for them by the gods should embrace the virtue of humility. This ex-president believes that he has the sole answer to every problem plaguing Nigerian society. While his critics say he did not act better than those he criticizes when given the chance to put his theories into practice, his island of diminishing supporters regard him as a living legend.

Obasanjo is a critic of every government in which he is not an active participant. And that includes the man contesting his record as the second military ruler to rule the country as an elected civilian. Obasanjo variously described Muhammadu Buhari whom he helped to ‘install’ and soon fell out with as a man entrusted with a position beyond his mental capacity.

When Obasanjo is not writing a controversial book, he is granting controversial interviews or playing politics in subtler ways. His blatant refusal to endorse his kinsman, Bola Ahmed Tinubu or his two-time deputy, Atiku Abubakar is as controversial as his endorsement of Peter Obi. Playing with the order of protocols in the homestead of Yoruba tradition, an area that bestowed him with a chieftaincy title is the latest of his many plunges into national controversies.

The big question is whether he could swim out of this with the rump of his national clout intact. He is likely to retreat back into relative inactivity savouring the outcome of his action only to reappear again whenever the urge catches him to rupture the waves of socio-political tranquility.

As the uncrowned drama king that turns serious matters into farcical distractions, this is the proverbial dance of the Sigidi asking to be allowed to dance in the rain. The outlook was whether he could wriggle out of this one as an Egba (Yoruba) chief and an elder statesman without tarnishing those credentials. His kinsfolks have threatened to cut him to size, but he could prove yet too big an Iroko tree for their sharpened axes, they might need a sharp electric saw to do the job.


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